“A River Runs Through It”
After the last month we’ve experienced here in Cape Breton, it seems appropriate to talk about water this morning. We’ve sure had a lot of it placed in our region over the last month. Some of us weathered the storms very well. Others have experienced water problems to varying degrees. Water where water shouldn’t be. Water relocating driveways. Water relocating roads. Water everywhere!
I thought that with the reading of the Baptism of Jesus, this might be a good time to talk about water in the Bible. There are over 700 references to water and water related activities in the Bible. So, in order to get us out of here before bedtime, let’s begin!
Ok, maybe we won’t cover them all. Some of them are references to drinking, washing, baptisms, flowing waters of rivers, or bodies of water like seas or lakes. Those aren’t the one’s I’m going to focus on.
I want to focus this morning on some of the major events with water, which were often usual events that became much more.
The first event we’ll look at is creation itself. In Genesis 1, the very first verse of the Bible it says, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.”
The world began as a watery sphere. No land, no life, just water.
And then we read that on the third day, “God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.”
So water came before land. Dry land was created when God pooled the waters into our oceans, lakes and streams. Water was critical to the creation of the shape of the earth and also the creation of life on earth. And we know this to continue to be true today. We know if we forget to water our plants they will die. We know that the average healthy human is capable of living without food for a month. But without water, you will be lucky to survive a week. Most of our body is made up of water so even just a couple days without water can seriously affect our health. Water is important in God’s creation. It sustains life.
In the Maritimes we seem to have a special affinity for the deep blue. Ask folks who move away what they miss most and the ocean will often be listed among things like family and friends that we miss most of all. It certainly was on the list for Bev and I for the years we lived in Ottawa.
So water is not just important physically, in the way it sustains us, but it also important to us spiritually, in that it attaches itself to us and our life journey. There is something freeing for a lot of people in encountering the power of the earth in the ocean. Watching the big waves pound the shoreline or even just sitting by a peaceful lake. Encounters with water can be spiritual encounters for a lot of people.
The title of this message is “A River Runs Through It”. The same title as a popular book which was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt in the early 90’s. The story follows the life of a family who has deep roots in spending a lot of time on the banks of a river fly fishing. A place they often find themselves retreating to when life throws challenges their way. A place they go to reconnect with themselves and think about life in general.
Water gives us life, but is also a place that can bring new perspectives on life.
In the Bible, encounters with bodies of water often leads to something quite powerful and spiritual. Often it leads to new encounters with God and what can best be described as a new beginning. Where the Bible has many accounts of people using water for spiritual purposes, we’ll look at how God uses water for spiritual connections with people.
After creation, which is of course the beginning, there is another event with water that can be seem as somewhat of a restart. Of course I am talking about the flood. In Genesis 7 God tells Noah to gather his family and the animals and get into the ark as the rain begins to fall and the water levels rise very quickly. The world has become an evil place, so evil that the only righteousness person God can find in all of creation is Noah. So God decides to cleanse the earth of evil and begin again with Noah and all he has gathered on the ark the built. The good news is, God promises not to do that again, despite what we might think with the weather over the last month and the pictures we have seen on the news around here an in Australia.
In the flood, God uses the waters to renew creation. To begin again and wash away the evil of the world.
The next event where God does something very powerful with water is in the Exodus. For generations the Israelites were oppressed by the Egyptians. They, who were once welcomed, had become slaves and threatened. In their cries to God, God chose Moses to lead them back to the promised land. As they fled they were being chased by the mighty Egyptian army and came upon the Red Sea with no escape.
Completely cornered with the end of the Israelites seeming unavoidable, God simply told Moses to lift his arms and the sea divided so the Israelites had safe passage to the other side. God divided this great body of water so they would have a dry path on which to flee. And we remember that once they made it across, their pursuers we caught in the middle of the rejoining of this great sea, and the Israelites were safe. They were free.
Using the parting of the Red Sea, God gave his people safe passage so they could begin their new lives in the land God had promised to them. No longer would they live in bondage under a foreign leader, but now they would be free to live as God would have them live. Well, as long as they stayed close to God’s plan they were safe. They didn’t always do that, but there’s a sermon for another day.
The next event we’ll look at this morning is the story of Naaman in the book of 2 Kings. Naaman was a commander in a foreign army. He also had some sort of serious skin condition. Through the advice of a small Israelite slave, he travelled to Israel to seek out a healing. The prophet Elisha sent a messenger to Naaman that he needed to bath himself 7 times in the Jordan River. So there it was, no grand ceremony, no great gestures or incantations, but when Naaman washed himself in the muddy Jordan River, his skin was restored. From there Naaman becomes a great believer in God and continues to be a servant of God in his homeland. God shows his healing power is not just for any particular people or nation, but for all. Once again, God shows through water His plan to make himself known to all people, washing away sin and evil, and showing His care and love for the people of the world. But also, He gave Naaman a fresh start. Without being healed, Naaman’s condition would have worsened and his life would have been over.
There are of course other events I could touch on today, but I’m going to jump way ahead to our reading this morning, the baptism of Jesus. John the Baptist has been preparing people through baptism for the coming of the Messiah. He has been warning them to cleanse themselves of the evil and sin in their lives, and through baptism he has been publicly acknowledging their commitment to doing so.
Jesus is about 30 years old when he encounters John on the river bank. Up until now we don’t know a whole lot about his life, where he has been, what he has been doing. But now he comes to John and seeks to be baptized himself. But why? Jesus is the Messiah, the one John has been preaching about, the one who has come to save the world from sin and destruction.
Why does the one without sin need to be baptized? We see why when Jesus comes up out of the water. When Jesus is lifted from the water in his baptism, the heavens open up and the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus. We also hear the great voice from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
A new beginning. What had been a simple act of repentance has become something much greater. It’s an act telling us clearly where Jesus has come from and that he is now on the journey to fulfill his call. From then on it doesn’t matter where Jesus has been for the last 30 years, what matters is how he lived his life until his death.
The waters of baptism are a sign of our commitment to follow Jesus Christ. To let the Holy Spirit descend upon us so that we too have a new beginning to live as Christ calls us to live. To turn away from the sin and destruction in our past and start anew with Jesus Christ as our helper.
This is something we cannot do alone. The purpose of a public baptism is to acknowledge we cannot do this alone. Even when we let Jesus Christ come fully into our lives, the temptations of the world are strong. So in our public professions around baptism, we ask for the help of the wider church on this journey.
Later on in the service, I am going to invite you to come forward, if you are comfortable, to remember your baptismal vows. Your promise to seek and serve the one true God who came to earth in Jesus Christ to show us the way back to God and to turn away from all evil. It’s a reminder that spiritual encounters with God through a simple, basic element of our earth, water, has touched us as well. We too have had a profound spiritual encounter with God through our own baptism.
The sign of a new beginning. The sign of a promise from God to always be with us in His Son, the Beloved, and in our response we accept this gift and will seek to live it out each and every day.
The waters of creation still flow. Passing through time and all of creation. A sign that the love of God continues to flow for His people and how it never ends.